Friday, May 27, 2022

Writing Journals, Notebooks, and the "Commonplace Book" as Useful Tools for Book Writers

This past week I sorted old writing files. For each WIP (work in progress), I'd created a writer's notebook, a journal of my journey through the years it took to plan, write, and revise--and eventually publish the book.

Some of these journals date back a decade. It's always a TBT to review them. Quite often, the early plot or character ideas barely resemble the final version. But they are always good seeds.

I know so many writers who have this practice of writer's notebooks or journals. In my particular version, I like to add collage, quotes, articles and research, title ideas, lists of possible scenes, books I wanted to read for inspiration, and a long list of ongoing questions.

For one of my novels, I created character colleges--the purpose? to see how much more distinct I could make each of them. I wasn't succeeding with this goal until I saw the collected images. Very useful.

The copied-out quotes from other writers helped me stay enthusiastic when the road got rough.

I turned to my list of books to read when my own writing dried up, and I got inspired again. Some writers I know read something from another author before each writing session for the same reason.

I loved to print and collect research and relevant articles.

All of this can be done on Scrivener or another software, of course. But something about the tactile side of a notebook, turning its pages, sitting down with it on low days, meant more.

Most valuable were the handwritten notes and progress reports about the book. I didn't write every day, or even every week or month. But I did report in. I wrote the gnarly questions I struggled with and the answers came as I wrote--that was the magic, as I learned. Journaling, as many of us know, can bring submerged ideas to light, reveal answers to problems, almost as if you're talking with a good friend or book therapist.

Writer's notebooks also provide a way to stay honest about the book I am writing. When another tangential idea comes, I write it in the notebook. I let it ferment there, rather than in the draft. If it generates heat, I will begin to search ways to include it. But often these ideas are just floating around and maybe will end up in a different project, a short story or essay or another book.

A memoirist and journalist, Tom, who has been in my classes, sent me a great article this week about something called a "commonplace book." My journals and writer's notebooks border on this. Commonplace books seem destined as inspiration and reminders of the path when we can't see it. A place to collect great writing we come across. If you want to read the article, here's the link. (If the link doesn't work, go to Ryan Holiday's website and search for the topic.)

There are so many great stories out there about the use of writer's notebooks, journals, and collections of your favorite quotations, but I wanted to share a few links in case you're not totally convinced that you need to try one.

My favorite, from Lit Hub
From Think Written, how to start one
And just for fun, a great link from Thought Co. on writers who used them

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